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Happy Birthday to the Hispanic Division Reading Room!

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The following is a guest post by Helena Zinkham, Chief, Prints & Photographs Division.

When the elegant Hispanic Reading Room opened in October 1939, its closest neighbor at the Library of Congress was the Division of Fine Arts, known today as the Prints & Photographs Division. Over the last 75 years, we have enjoyed collaborating on many special events and valuable acquisitions, from the Archive of Hispanic Culture in the 1940s to the ASARO Archive of Political Prints in the 2010s. In fact, the original designs for the dramatic murals in the Hispanic Reading Room vestibule have become treasures of the Library’s master drawing collection.

Preparatory drawing for "Mining for GoPreparatory drawing for "Entry into the forest." Drawing by Cândido Portinari, 1941.
Preparatory drawing for “Entry into the forest.” Drawing by Cândido Portinari, 1941.

Mural "Entry into the Forest," Hispanic Reading Room, Library of Congress. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, ca. 2000.
Mural “Entry into the Forest,” Hispanic Reading Room, Library of Congress. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, ca. 2000.

To salute the Hispanic Reading Room’s  75th anniversary, let’s look back at how the Brazilian artist Cândido Portinari (1903-1962) developed his ideas for two of those murals. He drafted each theme using pastel, gouache, and ink on a small sheet of paper before creating the murals using tempera on dry plaster. According to the Hispanic Division’s own description of the Portinari murals, this dry plaster technique “promised the most successful blending of monumentality with luminous coloring, because it seemed the most effective for the relatively small space available, and because it would permit him a greater freedom of experimentation while working with a subject and in an atmosphere hitherto unfamiliar to him.”

Like the murals, the Hispanic Reading Room has long been admired. The entire Hispanic Division remains an essential voice in representing the 14 million items in the Library’s collections related to the Iberian, Caribbean, Mexican, and Latin American worlds.

Preparatory drawing for "Mining for Gold" mural. Drawing by Cândido Portinari, 1941.
Preparatory drawing for “Mining for Gold” mural. Drawing by Cândido Portinari, 1941.

Mural painting "Mining for Gold," Hispanic Reading Room, Library of Congress. Photograph By Carol M. Highsmith, ca. 2000.
Mural painting “Mining for Gold,” Hispanic Reading Room, Library of Congress. Photograph By Carol M. Highsmith, ca. 2000.

¡Muy feliz septuagesimo quinto aniversario al Salon de Lectura Hispana!

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Comments (2)

  1. Why is there an “Hispanic Reading Room” but no such special treatment for whites, blacks, or asians? Or for that matter, for Jews, who contributed in such extraordinary ways to everything from arts, medicine, and especially the civil rights movement?

    The LOC should be race-neutral. Or if they want to idiotically waste our tax money, at least do it fairly by having special sections for ALL the many races and ethnic groups in the American Colonies.

    • Mr. Sanchez,

      The scope of the Hispanic Division is based on world geography. The Library has four reading rooms that focus on international collections. The other three units are the African & Middle Eastern Division, the Asian Division, and the European Division. All four units have staff well versed in languages other than English. They “offer in-depth reference assistance, provide substantive briefings on a wide range of subjects relating to the countries, languages and cultures represented within their collections, produce guides to specific Library’s resources, and cooperate in developing and preserving the Library’s unparalleled collections.” To learn more about their work, please see

      Helena Zinkham

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